real life

"When the pain was too much, my mother would pull me close and beg me to help her end her life."

The morning my mum stood at the front door of my studio, a note in her hand with a key attached, changed both our lives forever.

“I think Jim has gone and done something stupid”.

I read the note, naively thinking perhaps I’d find my stepdad in a state of inebriation down at the shed. I ran to find him, straight past the car containing his lifeless body. But the haunting cry of my mum, which stays with me to this day, directed me to turn around.

Many months before my stepdad had been diagnosed with an extremely rare condition, a rouge vain had found its way into his spine at the T7 vertebrae, causing an aneurysm that crushed his spinal cord. The pain in his lower body from the nerve damage had become excruciating and was getting progressively worse. He described it like constantly standing in boiling water or being electrocuted. He couldn’t handle anything accidentally touching him. He lost the ability to control his bladder and was losing the ability to walk.

The plethora of prescribed drugs did nothing to ease his pain. He decided to take his own life while he was still capable.

"The plethora of prescribed drugs did nothing to ease his pain." Image: iStock.

My mum could never reconcile that my stepdad had kept this secret from her when they’d intimately shared everything in their lives. My stepdad, the meticulous planner, had ensured that every action he’d taken had been done in a way to ensure we weren’t implicated in his death.

I saw a part of my mum died along with my stepdad the day he took his took his life. Along with losing the love of her life, she lost her will to live.

The shock of that day hit us both differently. My mum began taking strong antidepressants to cope with the nightmares that regularly haunted her. I developed PTSD, my whole attitude to life changed for the worse. This entire chapter of our lives could have diverged on a much happier path if my stepdad had been allowed the option of ending his life in a painless, peaceful and humane way, with his family holding his hands as he passed over.

It was barely surprising, then, when my mum’s breast cancer returned after 17 years in remission. By the time she was diagnosed it had spread throughout her spine. In a bizarre twist of fate my mum’s spinal cord crushed at the T7 vertebrae, the same as my stepdad, giving her the same painful symptoms that he had endured.

My mother once again tried to battle the disease, undergoing surgery to try to rebuild her spine and take the pressure of the badly damaged cord, and for a short while it seemed promising. However, her paraplegia meant she couldn’t live at home any more and she lived her final years moving between hospitals and the nursing home.

"She couldn’t live at home anymore and she lived her final years moving between hospitals and the nursing home." Image via iStock.

There were times when the pain of her crushed spine would be too much for her. She would pull me close and beg me to help her end her life. She would ask me to secret her an overdose of the strong painkillers she had left over at home or suffocate her in her sleep.


I discreetly searched to see if there was a way to help ease her suffering, but there was no way she could be taken to a country that allowed voluntary euthanasia in her condition. There were times when she was in such agony it seemed cruel and evil to not answer her pleas. But I couldn’t risk ending up behind bars for being involved in what I saw as an act of compassion.

On my mum’s obituary, we wrote the obligatory "passed away peacefully" to inform of her death. But I didn’t see it as peaceful. She essentially drowned, gasping for her last breaths as she succumbed to pneumosepsis. And as her slow death spread out along the weeks, when the final moment came she was without family, both my brother and I were at work when she passed.

I imagine again, how differently this story could have unfolded had she been given the option of voluntary euthanasia. We could have planned for all of us to be there hosting a loving farewell party, while she still had her dignity, holding her hands as she truly passed away peacefully.

The late euthanasia campaigner Kylie Monaghan. Image via Channel 9.

There is no escaping the tragedy of illness and dying. And some people may be happy to see their end in this manner. But how can we call ourselves a civilised nation while we still force those terminally ill, whose pain cannot be eased, to suffer such cruel fates without any other options for humanely facing their end of life? With Australia’s aging population of baby boomers, this issue isn’t going away anytime soon.

I am going to adding my voice to Kylie Monaghan’s campaign for the Voluntary Euthanasia Bill 2016 in South Australia. I am also going to be sending a personal letter to each of the 76 Senators in the upper house, sharing my story.

I know there are so many more who share similar stories, and I urge you to show your support and share them as well.

Find out more on how you can support Voluntary Euthanasia here.